Wednesday, July 23, 2014

John Blundell, RIP


John Blundell, 61, who led influential classical-liberal organizations and published several books, died on July 22 of cancer. I worked for John at the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS), 1985 through 1990, and observed up close his deep dedication to liberty and free markets. He also ran the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and later the UK's Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). He was a board member of the Mont Pelerin Society. In these capacities, he tirelessly promoted free-market ideas and young scholars looking to make careers studying and teaching liberty in academia, as well as aspiring journalists. After his organization work, John turned to writing and editing books. Among his works are Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady and Ladies for Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History. He was also keenly interested in seeing new pro-market institutions established, and in that connection he wrote Waging the War of Ideas. Most recently, he led a Liberty Fund/Liberty Matters discussion of the contributions of Arthur Seldon, a mentor of his who helped found the IEA.

I first met John at an IHS advanced seminar at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. The tall, reserved, good-humored Englishman made an immediate impression with his knowledge and dedication.

John is survived by his wife, Christine, and two sons, Miles and James.

He will be missed.

The Atlas obit is here. Steve Davies wrote an appreciation at the IEA site.

Monday, July 21, 2014

James Garner, RIP

James Garner, one of my favorite actors and star of one of the best antiwar movies ever, The Americanization of Emily (1964), has died at 86. If you have not seen Emily, do so. It was Garner's favorite movie, and he never was better, although he gave sparkling performances in many other movies and in his successful television series, Maverick and The Rockford Files. His characters, perhaps without exception, preferred to talk their way out of tough situations rather than fight. Wits and wit beat muscle. His charm with a touch of cynicism carried this off brilliantly.

See David Hart's piece on Garner here.

Israel's War on Gaza: The Context

Any discussion of Israel's war on Gaza that does not focus on 1) the Zionist military's and Israel's systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through roughly 1948 (that's how Palestinian refugees ended up in the Gaza Strip); 2) the military conquest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967; 3) the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip since 2007, following the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 (yes, the occupation ended, but Gaza remains a prison camp -- as though guards left a prison but maintained strict control over who and what -- food, medicine, infrastructure supplies, etc. -- could enter and leave); and 4) the exploitation of the kidnapping and murders of three young Israeli residents of an illegal West Bank settlement (one a 19-year-old soldier) to rout Hamas (which denied responsibility; it normally claims credit for his acts) in the West Bank (Israeli forces rearrested several hundred West Bank Palestinians, including some who had been released in an earlier prisoner exchange; political leaders stirred up revenge fever and one Palestinian youth was burned to death, while another was severely beaten by police) -- any discussion that fails to take all these things into account is worse than worthless. It is crudely dishonest. (Compare the reaction to the murder of the three Israelis with the murder by Israeli soldiers of two Palestinian youth on May 15 while peacefully commemorating the 1948 destruction of Palestine, known as the Nakba.)

Hamas is wrong to fire rockets at civilians (though few hit their targets), even considering that the villages those civilians live in were once Palestinian villages that Zionist/Israeli forces seized during the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing. The rocketing, however, is a sign of weakness versus Israel, not strength, and must not permit us to overlook this background of brutality against Palestinians. This year Hamas agreed to join the Palestinian Authority's coalition government (after the Israeli government, again, made a mockery of "peace talks") signaling an endorsement of the PA's agenda -- including recognition of Israel. Was this a welcome step for the Israeli government? No. It immediately set out to punish the Palestinians for this new unity -- it prefers a divided Palestinian community and a Hamas it can demonize. (Years ago, the Israeli government nurtured the emergence of Hamas precisely because it could serve as a religious rival to the popular secular Fatah.)

Hamas, it is true, maintains a charter that calls for the destruction of Israel, but that has not kept it from issuing statements over the years -- joining the coalition is only the most recent -- indicating a willingness to accept Israel as part of a two-state solution. It is Israel that has broken truces with Hamas. Its soldiers have often killed and injured Gazans minding their own business on their own side of the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, while Hamas leaders have been assassinated by the Israeli government following offers of a truce. It is clear that Israeli leaders do not want a Hamas they can make peace with, just as they don't want an Iran with which they can have normal relations. They need the specter of an "existential threat" to maintain their iron rule. In particular, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must push this intransigent line especially hard to keep the members of his coalition government who are further to the right than he is (yes, further) on the reservation.

Israeli leaders and spokesmen continually say that their only goal in this war is "peace and quiet" for the people if Israel. Maybe a decent goal would include justice for the long-suffering Palestinians. This is not about Hamas, an organization that endangers the innocent people it claims to champion with futile yet criminal activities like the rocket fire. This does not let the Israelis and their brutal response -- underwritten by American taxpayers and supporter by their rulers -- off the hook, however. Ont the contrary, since Israel created and maintains the open-air prison, it is responsible for all the evils that go on inside. Its hard-line policies embolden the most extreme elements and undercut the moderate voices. Has the "peace process" even slowed the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank?

No, it's not about Hamas; it's about the Palestinians, who do not deserve this punishment at the hands of the Israelis.

For further discussion of the larger context, see Ramzy Baroud's "Ravaging Gaza: The War Netanyahu Cannot Possibly Win." Also worthwhile are Nathan Thrall's "How the West Chose War in Gaza" and Neve Gordon's "On 'Human Shielding' in Gaza."

Friday, July 18, 2014

TGIF: War, Peace, and Murray Rothbard

With wars raging in the Middle East, it seems like a good time to revisit a classic work by Murray Rothbard (1926–1995), the economist, historian, and political philosopher who had a lot to do with the birth and evolution of the modern libertarian movement. His “War, Peace, and the State” is something that all peace advocates — not just self-conscious libertarians — ought to be familiar with.
Read it here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Again, the Isolationist Smear

It doesn’t take much to be smeared as an isolationist by leading Republicans. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who appears to be running for president again, and former vice president Dick Cheney — not to mention Sen. John McCain, Gov. Chris Christie, and other members of the GOP establishment — can always be counted on to drag out that insult whenever they sense a threat from anyone not as hawkish as they are. If they thought that 30,000 U.S. troops should be sent somewhere, and someone recommended sending only 10,000, we could count on Perry, Cheney, et al., to condemn the other person as an appeasing isolationist.
UPDATE: Yikes I forgot the link. The article is here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Setting the Record Straight on Palestinian Youth

Irfan Khawaja has an excellent post at the Austro-Athenian Empire responding to the usual negative portrayal of the Palestinians, especially the youth. I highly recommend it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

TGIF: Speaking to Nonlibertarians

If libertarians want to change how nonlibertarians’ think about government, they will need to understand how nonlibertarians think about government. By “nonlibertarians,” I mean the majority of people who spend little if any time pondering political theory, or what Murray Rothbard called political ethics. They may focus at times on particular government programs and actions, or on proposals for new programs, but rarely about government as an institution.
Read TGIF here.

No Mere Blunder

When year in and year out, for more than six decades, a group of politicians does things that objectively encourage their most violent adversaries and discredit their most conciliatory interlocutors, we are entitled to conclude that this is a calculated policy. Blunders don't persist for 66 years and counting.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Let the Immigrants Stay

Virtually all commentary about the influx of unaccompanied Central American children into the United States, which some say could rise to 90,000 this year, misses the point: no government has the moral authority to capture these kids and send them back to the miserable situations they have escaped.
The op-ed is here.